Watching the work that people in my congregation do, it’s clear that they’re called by God to use their gifts as teachers or social workers, as parents or attorneys. Sometimes they say they just drifted into the work they do, not seeing the steps as part of God’s leading. Other times they have a certainty that they’re doing the work God wants them to do. Pastors have the benefit of an articulated sense of call – often a story about how God lured us out of accounting or marketing or surfing into the ministry. Jeremiah’s call reminds us that we all are called to do something in God’s world.
Read the Working Preacher commentary by Juliana Claassens.
Read the scripture here.
For more about the history of Jeremiah, see the Jewish Encyclopedia.
In Chapter One, Jeremiah’s call story is particularly poignant, as we hear it in the first person. He raises the traditional objections voiced by anyone called by God, and God answers that God has had plans for Jeremiah from before his birth. Before Jeremiah has an understanding of the work ahead, God promises to deliver him. We can imagine that promise made his ears perk up. “Deliver me? From what?” God doesn’t sugar-coat the work ahead – it’s going to be difficult and dangerous.
Further, God has plans for the nation of Israel. There will be plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing ahead.
The first verses of the book tell us that Jeremiah is the son of a priest. His call comes during the reign of King Josiah, and continues through the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, so he works for God for over forty years. He might have expected to go into the family business, also serving God as a priest, and God instead offers a dramatic disruption of that expected path.
Chapter Seven gives us one of Jeremiah’s messages, now told to us in the third person. Standing in the temple gate, he calls the people of Israel back to lives of justice for the orphan, the widow and the alien. Don’t be fooled by being in the temple, he calls out. God wants your loyalty back. There is no safety in the temple, or in the rituals, if your lives don’t match.
Jeremiah tells the people that they are “trusting in deceptive words to no avail.” The sermon might look at where we trust in easy words, or untruthful words. The preacher night talk about our obligation to seek out the truth, and to listen attentively for truth vs. falsehood.
Or the sermon might look at how God calls all of us to do something in God’s world. God uses all of our work as truck drivers or volunteers, store clerks or lunch aides, nurses or cake bakers, in service to a better world. It’s not just prophets and preachers who have a calling. Sometimes it’s through our paid work, or where we choose to volunteer, or in the interactions we have with people through the day. As pastors, we sometimes make our call sound better than other people’s, but how can we assure everyone they have a call from God?
Or the sermon might look at God’s promise to “deliver” Jeremiah. William Sloane Coffin said “God provides minimum protection, maximum support,” and that seems to be true for Jeremiah, who was often in danger and lived a life without much comfort or security. He was mocked, put in jail,a dn thrown into a pit and left to die. How do we understand God’s promise to “deliver” Jeremiah – or us? Is this a place where God is, as Woody Allen said, “an underachiever?” The full quote from Coffin is “God provides minimum protection, maximum support–support to help us grow up, to stretch our minds and hearts until they are as wide as God’s universe.” Perhaps that is what happens to Jeremiah – and to us, when we follow where God calls us.
Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church. She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall. The image is by Stephen Poff. Guarding Words and Actions, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity School. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenpoff/3530640841/.
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